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Sailing away with Elan

Founder of Sunreef Yachts, Francis Lapp, talks about how he founded the world’s leading brand of luxury yachts.

Words: Mehnaz Yasmin

Self-admittedly a “hard-working person” who never liked school, Francis Lapp was all of seventeen years when he took up his first job. Born in 1958, in Mulhouse city in eastern France near Swiss and German borders to a seamstress mother and a specially-abled father, Lapp believes that ups and downs are inevitable, “but one bad day does not mean that entire life is lost”.

Conferred the title of the Entrepreneur of the Year at the World Yacht Trophies during the Cannes International Boat Show in 2013, Francis Lapp went on to become the founder of the world’s leading designer and manufacturer of luxury sailing catamarans and power multihulls, Sunreef Yachts.

“The idea to establish Sunreef Yachts shipyard came a few years after I had visited Poland for the very first time,” said Mr Lapp. His discovery of the world of small racing catamarans after he visited Poland and took part in a race held by Warsaw’s Automobile Club in early 90s encouraged him to buy his first, larger cruising catamaran. After he purchased two more similar yachts, he founded Sunreef Charter, a France based yacht charter company.

The need to manufacture Sunreef yachts also arose due to an increased demand and an erratic supply. As the company rose and clients demanded larger and luxurious catamarans, Lapp found it difficult to source such boats as there were no suitable ones available in the market. Once convinced that “multihulls are the yachts of the future,” he decided to venture into building his own fully custom exclusive boats. Thus, he diversified into creating yachts which would embody a vision and cater to individualistic needs. “In 2002 I went to Gdansk (North Poland) and started construction of the first Sunreef,” Lapp said.

Sunreef Yachts has, since then, dominated the realm of luxury sailing since the world witnessed the launch of the first yacht; a luxury catamaran with a flybridge - Sunreef 74, in 2003. What followed next was a series of innovative surprises in the form of “the world’s first luxury power cat with oceanic range, some of the world’s biggest sailing catamarans and the first catamaran-superyacht with a folding mast.” In addition, the shipyard also brought to the world the first double deck sailing catamaran. With the introduction of at least two new models each year, Sunreef Yachts has also proved its mettle in the game of consistency. Yachts are custom-made, designed to intricacy and superior in style and comfort.

Captain Ian Sellers who was also a Project Manager to a European client described the family’s Sunreef 88 sailing catamaran as, “a beautifully crafted high specification, fully customised, transoceanic catamaran with a superb quality and finish”.

Top notch accommodations with opulent living spaces and extravagantly designed interiors have always surpassed the expectations of even the most “demanding” clients, reports the website of Sunreef Yachts. More than 120 luxury and custom made catamarans have been launched so far.

The sail of Sunreef Yachts was not all smooth. It steered through the ravages of rough weather in its voyage under the helm of the valiant captain of the ship Mr Francis Lapp. The shipyard combatted two major setbacks between 2007 and 2011, but emerged triumphant.

First, the financial crisis of 2007-2008 hurled most of the then bigger enterprises into bankruptcy. Mr Lapp attributed “competitive prices, extended portfolio of clients and flexibility on different levels of cooperation,” when inquired about what spared Sunreef Yachts from the clutches of this global phenomenon.

Second, a fire broke out at the Sunreef premises in January 2011 and engulfed three catamarans under construction. When asked about how he coped with the hazard, Mr Lapp spoke about how he took it all in his stride, “While most of the people would’ve let the dust settle for a few days, deciding how many workers would be laid off and what the next course of action might be, I instead decided to rally our employees and begin construction on the three lost hulls. Most of the moulds had survived, and new tooling could be built for the replacement hulls. We sent out a statement just 48 hours after the fire that delays in the delivery would not exceed three months. We also noted that it would increase production capacity not only for the lost yachts, but for a new build we had signed with the owner two days after the fire. We could not give up. Later that year we delivered all scheduled yachts and launched new models including Sunreef 82 and 60 Sunreef Power.”

About what kept the spirits of Sunreef Yachts moving, Mr Lapp answered, “We’re always hungry for more and we never stop surprising”. In a world of hundreds of yacht companies, what makes catamarans manufactured by Sunreef Yachts distinct and unparalleled? “We produce custom-tailored catamarans. While most of the catamaran industry is focused on semi-custom mass production, we build unique luxury crafts. You can design a new model with us from scratch or customize one of the existing ones. Our fleet is colourful and diverse. We don’t have the habit to say “no” to specific customer demands. Custom-made stair-lifts, pianos, jacuzzis, vintage marine furniture, prosciutto slicers, steam baths - all found their way on board our cats. We’ve always been very consistent in our goal to provide the most luxurious and the best quality and safe multihulls to our clients,” said Mr Lapp. Global clients also bring eclectic design ideas to the table and every project observes new layouts and exciting concepts, which the in-house team of designers then curate meticulously to suit individual tastes and panache.

By offering clients the liberty to envision and endless options to choose from, Sunreef Yachts can churn out ‘a family-friendly charter boat, a luxurious private floating villa, a dazzling party boat or a relentless expedition boat’. Then the team of extremely creative and adept designers puts two and two together to carve out the interiors of the cruiser that reflect individual personalities.

With a surge in the number of orders received, prospects of expansion loom large. A new shipyard is also built in Gdansk as part of a long-term investment. Currently, the shipyard is working on a hydrofoil version of a 40-foot day cruiser. They are also planning to unveil a new superyacht concept and launch another ultra-luxury 80 feet long power catamaran in 2019.

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